REMEMBERING NIEDERSTEIN’S

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A venerable relic of the era when outings to cemeteries were the Sunday rage, Niederstein’s Restaurant stood on Metropolitan Avenue (formerly the Williamsburg and Jamaica Turnpike) from the early 1850s to 2005.

At first a roadhouse on the Brooklyn & Jamaica Turnpike just east of 69th Street, it later served travelers journeying to nearby Lutheran Cemetery. Over the years its interior and exterior were altered to such a degree that it was deemed unworthy of protection by the Landmarks Preservation Commission, and in 2005 it was razed and replaced with an Arby’s Roast Beef fast food palace, which has a tacky boulder decoration marking where the old place once stood. Across the street, on Niederstein’s parking lot a new boxy building arises, advertising a prominent air conditioner manufacturer. Oddly, the parking lot sign stayed resolutely in place throughout construction.


The roadhouse was constructed by Henry Schumacher in the early 1850s and was purchased by German immigrant John Niederstein in 1888. Niederstein, a cook by trade, had made money operating the Yorkville Assembly Rooms on 2nd Avenue in that Manhattan German stronghold after his arrival in the 1860s.

Niederstein greatly expanded Schumacher’s roadhouse in response to the popularity of Sunday outings in the Queens cemetery belt, adding two wings on each side and eventually building 32 rooms. Besides cemetery outings, holidays became a great source of business, with Decoration (Memorial) Day the most popular one, followed by Mother’s Day and June 15th, which was in the early 20th Century celebrated as Slocum Memorial Day; the General Slocum steamship had burned in the East River on June 15th, 1904, killing over a thousand day trippers mostly from the lower East Side and decimating what was then called kleindeutschland – “Little Germany.”

Niederstein’s had changed ownership only a few times in its history; from 1969 to its demise in 2005 it was owned by Reiner and Horst Herink.

In the modern era, the old fashioned way of doing things gave way to modern improvements. For example, Niederstein’s collection of heavy wooden ceiling fans were connected with a belt to a single long axle running to the dining room from the bar — powered, according to legend, by a man on a bicycle in the basement. Thankfully, Willis Carrier’s creation, air conditioning, gave the man on the bike something else to do.

In Niederstein’s heyday the restaurant served over 130,000 dinners per year, which over the last 20 years of operation came to 330,000 pounds of sauerbraten along with 330 gallons of gravy, as well as 200,000 pounds of pork loin.

Patronage steeply declined in the late 1990s and early 2000s and finally, ownership decided to close Niederstein’s and sell the property; an Arby’s franchisee purchased the property for $1.6M in late 2004, the restaurant closed in February 2005 and it was razed several weeks later.

Middle Village and Glendale still maintain their former dominant Germanic heritage in remaining restaurants, such as Zum Stammtisch, Chalet Alpina and Von Westernhagen’s.

Whoops, Von Westernhagen’s closed in 2010.

9/9/08

 





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8 Responses to REMEMBERING NIEDERSTEIN’S

  1. Dorothy says:

    My great-grandfather, George Borst, who was born in February of 1862 and who lived in Manhattan (Hell’s Kitchen), drove a horse-pulled coach which he owned to cemeteries in Queens for funerals. On occasion he would allow his daughter, Rose, who was one of 12 children and my grandmother, to drive with him when he worked the funerals. They would go over the 59th Street Bridge to one of the cemeteries in Queens and afterwards he would take the funeral group for dinner at Neiderstein’s on Myrtle Avenue. Following this tradition my family always ate there after a funeral up until the time my father died in December of 1998. Neiderstein’s has since closed and someone told me a McDonald’s was built in its place.

  2. David Fluhrer says:

    My great grandfather, John Fluhrer, was Niederstein’s manager in the early 1900s. A 1915 photo of him and his staff in front of the bar was said to hang in the restaurant up to the closing. I had contacted the restaurant to see if I could buy the photo and someone there — perhaps Mariah Hochhauser, the last manager — told me that I could have it if I came to the restaurant to pick it up. An illness and death in the family distracted us from doing so and once the restaurant closed, it was too late. If anyone knows the whereabouts of the photo, or how I might contact the last owner, Rainer Herink, or Ms. Hochhauser, I would really appreciate hearing about it at dfluhrer@optonline.net. The photo might not have much use to others, but to us, it would be considered a treasured family heirloom.

  3. Rob Carpenter says:

    I visited NY (from California) in 1976 (16 years old) with my family, and my uncle who had spent a lot of time in NY took us to this restaurant. It was one of the most memorable things about the whole trip. I remember that I got a stuff chicken breast dish that was delicious! I still have a souvenir book of matches that I picked up there that night. Most of my family on that trip are now gone, but I will always have good memories of the night we ate at Niederstein’s Restaurant.

  4. Cynthia Lindberg-Ross says:

    My father, William Lindberg, grew up with Carl Niederstein Jr and worked as a manager for a period in the restaurant. My mother and father met when my mother’s sister had her wedding at the restaurant and my father was the manager in charge. My mother had an argument with my father over one of the arrangements, as an apology he bought her a drink at the bar after the party was over – the rest is history – their wedding reception was at Niederstein’s restaurant, Carl Niederstein was their best man. I grew up in my early years going to the restaurant after visiting Lutheran cemetary – the last visit to bury one of my Aunt’s. I did not know it was gone, so sad, so many good family stories came from Niederstein’s – especially my parents meeting! My Dad contacted Carl a few years ago and they talked on the phone from time to time but now we have lost contact.

  5. DONNA says:

    my grandfather harold wood (happy) was bartender there for many years. ,many happy memories there. sorry it was torn down. in 1988 my uncle died and was buried at that cementary and we had lunch there. glad i went.

  6. JEFF COSTIGAN says:

    I WENT TO NEIDERSTEINS ONLY A FEW TIMES. LAST TIME I WAS THERE WAS APRIL 1995, AFTER MY DISCHARGE FROM THE NAVY, MY FATHER THREW ME A SMALL PARTY THERE, ALL MY FRIENDS & RELATIVES CAME, HAD A GREAT TIME. WHEN I HEARD IT WAS CLOSED I THOUGHT THE PERSON WAS LYING. BUT, TOO BAD IT DID CLOSE. I THOUGHT IT TO BE THE BEST GERMAN RESTAURANT IN NYC. I JUST LOVED THE FOOD THERE, NOTHING WAS BAD. THE ONLY GERMAN RESTAURANTS LEFT ARE ZUM STAMMTISCH & CHALET ALPINA ON METRO. THEY ARE BOTH GOOD BUT NOT LIKE NEIDERSTEINS!! I REALLY MISS THIS PLACE, REALLY. I WISH IT NEVER WOULD HAVE CLOSED. BUT I REALLY DO WISH NEIDERSTEINS WAS STILL OPEN.

  7. Deborah Strauch says:

    I have never been to Niederstein’s and it saddens me because my family owned it for many years. I wish I could have at least been there once, but I know my father has many fond memories & I have seen many photo’s in its heyday. Truly a piece of history that we can never get back. I am proud of my German heritage & even prouder that my ancestry’s were part of such a fine establishment & community. Niederstein’s was & always will be a family.

  8. Hank says:

    How sad, the restaurant could have easily been brought back by hacking out the dated 70′s interior, putting the ceiling fans back and restoring it to the German Roadhouse it once so proudly was. No vision here, Middle Village is looking like a cheap, overpopulated, Flushing Main St. How very sad.

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